ReachLocal: One Stop Digital Shop for Local Small Business

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe here with SMB Group’s SMB Spotlight. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Sharon Rowlands, the relatively new CEO of ReachLocal.  Sharon was brought into ReachLocal earlier this year to help transform the company.  Sharon, thanks for talking to me today.

Sharon: Absolute pleasure Laurie.

Laurie: Great.  Before we get started can you just tell me a little bit about who ReachLocal is and how you got started and what the company does?

Sharon: Sure, absolutely.  ReachLocal was founded over 10 years ago to really help local businesses with their digital marketing needs.  It was a time when advertising dollars were still mainly going to print and Yellow Pages. As the Internet became a stronger way in which consumers looked for services, ReachLocal was established to help local businesses tap into that.

Laurie: That’s kind of hard to believe thinking back now that only 10 years ago where we were using Yellow Pages and things like that.

Sharon: Absolutely.

Laurie: So dialing forward a bit what does ReachLocal stand for today, what’s the business about today?

Sharon: The business today is still about helping local businesses get more customers. Most local businesses are small, and we are still all about helping them get found online wherever consumers are searching.  What has changed is clearly the number of places consumers search has expanded. So local businesses now have to worry about being found on search engines, found on digital directories, found on social media. Then they need to be able to manage all that digital traffic in an effective way.

Laurie: I think it’s getting more and more pressurized because there are so many channels that you have to get out through, between social media and search, and if you’re a brick and mortar company you’re still doing things in the physical world.  How do you help small businesses get their arms around this, manage it and break through the noise when you have the big companies with big budgets and more resources?

Sharon: Right.  Well, I think it’s a couple of things but firstly really being a one-stop shop for them because it’s overwhelming to think you have to manage all these different online venues. So ReachLocal does it all for the small business in one place.

We have a really amazing technology platform that optimizes across all of the platforms and makes sure that we’re actually getting you the most leads for your money.  Then secondly what we do with our ReachEdge platform, similar to a marketing automation system, we help the local business manage those leads and provide analytics around what’s working and conversion.  We have great technology but we really believe the business wants help as well–so we also bring great service and expertise to make sure their campaigns are working for them.

Laurie: Can you tell me a little bit about what would be like for a typical small business, maybe a real estate company or a dental practice, what would you do for them start to finish?

Sharon: Let me give you a real life example. I just talked the other week with a relatively new client, six months, up in the Bay Area, a plumber.  He has 10 contractors on staff.  What we did for him was we set him with our ReachEdge platform which gives him a mobile optimized website which is really important because over 50% of searches are being done by mobile, and that’s just growing.

Laurie: And that’s all integrated into the platform?

Sharon: That’s all integrated into the platform.  We then run all his advertising campaigns across digital display and search engine.  We do retargeting campaigns for him. All of the lead intake, which is both phone and web forms, come into one place, get categorized, and alerts him to how he has to follow-up and then really tracks those leads through to conversion and getting new clients.  He can really see the ROI in what his digital marketing spend is doing for him.  His performance in terms of customer growth has been incredible in the last six months.

Laurie: I think a lot of times without that automation a lot of leads and people you bring into the database they just fall through the cracks, you don’t follow up because you’re overwhelmed trying to do plumbing or whatever your business is.

Sharon: Absolutely.  You’ve really hit something really, really important.  So much of the industry talks about lead generation.  You might get a great lead but unless you follow-up and convert it it’s still been a waste of your money.  Typically small businesses, because they’re so busy on their business actually lead conversion tends to get really neglected and one of the things we’re passionate about with ReachLocal is really helping clients convert effectively, not just get them leads.

Laurie: Do you also help them manage or improve their repeat business, referral business, are there elements to that once you have a customer.  It’s not just like a one shot deal, you’re bringing them into the fold so to speak?

Sharon: Right.  Well I think we really encourage our customers to use best practices in terms of email marketing and great content.  At the end of the day content really is foundational.  They can set up lead nurturing campaigns within ReachEdge platform.  Our primary focus really is getting them customers.

Laurie: Getting them new business, which in every one of our surveys, is the number one for small business.  What do you think makes ReachLocal really stand out?  There’s a lot of competitors that are pitching similar things, what do you think makes you different especially when it comes to the smaller company?

Sharon: Okay, I think a couple of things.  Number one I think we really are a one-stop digital shop for small business. That’s very important because it’s overwhelming for them to think about dealing with different partners for different aspects of what they need.  The fact that we can deliver the full spectrum is very important.

Secondly, I we bring ten years of expertise.  We have run millions of campaigns so we know what works.  That meld of great technology but with expertise I really think delivers a really great performance and at the end of the day that’s really what matters to our customers is they want to see the results.  They’re spending very important dollars so getting the performance and the results is key.

Laurie: Speaking of dollars the other thing that’s important to them is something they can afford.  A lot of times I talk to them and oh you know it’s really affordable and I ask for pricing and well it’s about $50,000 to get started!  What’s the deal with ReachLocal, how much are they in for?

Sharon: ReachEdge, which is if you like the marketing system and platform that gives you the website and all the marketing automation tools is $299 a month.  After that, what you choose to spend on search engine and display marketing is dependent upon where you are, how many leads you need to generate. Clearly your budget is going to relate to what type of performance you’re looking to get.

 Laurie: But $299 a month is the basic fee to be using the platform, taking advantage of all the automation?

Sharon: Absolutely, and get all of the reporting and conversion tools.

Laurie: Definitely something that most small businesses have in their wheelhouse in terms of affordability. So where can a company go to learn more about ReachLocal?

Sharon: Well you can find us on the web of course, at http://www.reachlocal.com. Or you can call us at 888-644-1321. And because we are a local business supporting local businesses we actually have a presence all over the world so we have over 20 offices across America.  Typically if you’re a small business and you need somebody to come and talk to you to really help strategize with you we have somebody locally.

Laurie: That’s great.  I’m here in your local New York office right now.  Sharon, this has been a great introduction to ReachLocal, thank you very much.  Thank you all tuning in to this SMB Spotlight.

Looking at the Big Picture for SMB Sales and Marketing: revenue + associates

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group. Today I’m talking to Louis Gudema, president of revenue + associates, which helps companies generate more revenue through measureable sales and marketing improvements. So Louis, I’ve known you for a while and I’ve know that revenue + associates is a new company for you, what’s prompted you to start it? Louis-casual-200-pix-wide

Louis: I had a company before for a dozen years, a digital agency that I sold in 2009 that became one of the national leaders in our niche. Then I did business development for two other agencies for several years. What I saw was a need that wasn’t being addressed head on, which is corporate revenue generation. A lot of agencies and people splinter it and say we’re going to help you with your website, we’re going to help with search, or we’re going help with advertising or with sales training, or whatever it may be, social media, but they’re not looking at the whole picture. Those point solutions may not be what a company really needs, and there may be other places where the best revenue opportunities lie for them.

Laurie: Yes, I think that’s a problem all of us can relate to. We know there’s many solutions out there but we have to frame up the problem and make sure we’re getting the right solution in place for it. How do you go about solving for that because it’s pretty complex?

Louis: I look across what I call a sales and marketing audit. There’s currently over a thousand companies, for example, providing sales and marketing software and dozens of channels from things like social and search advertising to traditional things like print. So in a sales and marketing audit, I look across a company’s whole sales and marketing process, it’s a 100 plus point audit that looks at what technologies are they using, what is the strategy, internal operations, governance, budgets, how are they onboarding people and training people, do they have the staff, are there skills gaps? From that I identify the best short, mid, and long-term opportunities for the company and start working with them to drill down.

Laurie: Who are your services mainly designed for? Small, medium or larger companies, what’s the right size company for this approach?

Louis: It’s a company that really wants to grow revenue. I’ve seen surveys that three out of four small business owners don’t want to get any bigger. So I want to talk to the fourth one. I’m especially focused on mid-market companies with say 10 to 100 or 200 million in revenue. I’ve worked with companies like IBM and Philips Healthcare and Avid Technology and other very, very large companies and done millions of dollars of business with them but in terms of starting this new company and the particular approach, I’m especially focused on that mid-market.

Laurie: I know you recently published a report called Revenue Opportunities, what is that about and what did you find in there? revenue-opportunities-report-cover-190

Louis: What I did was I took a look at 196 mid-market companies in New England that were operating on a national level. Looking from the outside what could I see about how much they were adapting modern sales and marketing programs. This looks at things like did they have analytics on their website, were they doing search advertising, were they doing search engine optimization, did they have a mobile ready site? Nine different things that could be seen from the outside, and it wasn’t only because those nine things can be very valuable and generate a lot of revenue when used well.

I felt they were also an indicator of the maturity and depth of a company’s revenue generation program. What I found was that of these 200 companies that operate nationally, so they all should be really eager to do as much as they can to generate revenue because they’re in competitive national or global markets. In fact, the average among those companies was that they were using less than three of those nine important programs and the median was two. It was a very, very low adoption rate.

Laurie: Why do you think the adoption rate for these things that are so directly tied to revenue so low?

Louis: I think it’s a couple things. The real outlier at the top end were SaaS and venture-backed companies. These are new companies, they’re very data driven and they’re very comfortable with technology, and they’re part of a world, especially that venture-backed world that knows this whole modern and very effective way to really ramp up revenue quickly.

I also get into other industries, like manufacturing or medical devices or engineering or architecture. I looked across a lot of industries. Then adoption rates plummet a lot so I think you have a situation where a company that’s doing okay, and has traditional ways of generating business. They know how those work for them and there’s this massive number of new things flying at them and they don’t know what’s real, what’s not real, what’s important. They don’t know where to start. They may have even tried one or two things but sometimes if you dip your toe in the water you can’t learn to swim, sometimes you have to really go in and embrace something to get the results. For a number of reasons the adoption of these technologies has been very slow, nationally even, from studies I’ve seen.

Laurie: These results you’re getting from these companies that are all in New England, do you think they represent the larger mid-market in the U.S.?

Louis: Actually, if anything, New England may be a little ahead of the national average because half of New England market is Massachusetts and Boston is a big part of that. There’s a lot of newer SaaS and venture-backed companies in Boston and Massachusetts. SiriusDecisions did a report that came out the same week as my report. They only looked at one of the nine factors, which was marketing automation and said just 16% of B2B companies nationally are using it. In my sample it was 28%. So it’s really low.

It’s not that I’m saying that these nine programs are the end all be all. As I said I’m really taking them at kind of a litmus test or thermometer to see how deep, how well built out are the revenue generation programs. There’s lots of other things like events and email newsletters and predictive analytics and lots of other things that companies can be using traditional and digital that may be the most effective for them, but these are the ones I could see.

Laurie: In the report it discusses the upside for the companies who do get more sophisticated in terms of how they generate revenue and what programs they put into place. If you aren’t doing some of this stuff right now where should you go to get started?

Louis: Well, there are several things. First, you need to adopt the mindset and recognize that this is an important area for revenue growth and something you need to invest in. You need to adopt a data-driven mindset and realize that your gut may not always be right and sometimes the data will take you someplace new. You also need to be willing to experiment and even fail because these things will not work 100% of the time and they take implementation and analyzing and optimization to get it right.

You have to invest in people and make sure they have the skills and that you’re adopting the right tools and that you know how to use them, and you have to find someone who can probably guide you through it. That thousand plus programs, those are in dozens of categories. Some of those categories are important to some companies and not others.

Once you’ve adopted a commitment to it and to budgeting and training and so on and so forth you’re going to have to take some time to figure out what are the right things for you and how to get them to all work together. That’s where the big payoff is, it’s not adopting one or two programs, but if you adopt a marketing automation program integrate it with your CRM and integrate it with your email marketing and other things so that everything starts working together.

Laurie: Louis, where can they go to learn more about the services that revenue + associates provides? Louis: Our website is revenue + associates,. I also have a blog.

Laurie: Can they get a copy of the report there?

Louis: Yes, you can get a copy of the report there, you can download it there. There’s actually a blog post which is specifically about an SMB action plan, some of the things for a company that is new to these more modern programs, where are some of the places that you can start.  

Laurie: Sounds great. Thanks again, Louis, for your time today, for joining me on SMB Spotlight. This really looks like something a lot of SMBs will want to look into because I think even if you don’t want to grow your business in terms of people, most businesses want to become more profitable and I think that all comes into play as well. So thank you again.

Louis:Thanks, Laurie.

VerticalResponse: Taking the Guesswork Out of Email Marketing and Social Media for Small Businesses

vrlogo-gradient_1000pxLaurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group, and today I’m talking to Janine Popick, CEO at VerticalResponse. VerticalResponse helps small businesses grow with email and social marketing tools, and recently Vertical Response introduced a new version of their solution which is what I’m here to talk with Janine about today.

So Janine, before we get into what the new VerticalResponse solution is all about, can you just let us know a little background about the company and what you’ve been doing up until now.

Janine: Oh sure, and thanks for having me here, Laurie, this is great. I launched VerticalResponse back in 2001 really with the premise that there was a lot of email marketing solutions out there for big businesses but there’s not a lot of solutions for small businesses. We’re based in San Francisco, we’re still headquartered here today, but really those big companies have that expensive software to manage all of their marketing, especially their email marketing. It was the right time for us to launch a company and get those small businesses from sending email out of their Outlook to more professional looking emails and a more professional solution. Currently here we have about 105 current employees at VerticalResponse.

Laurie: Ok, and about how many customers do you have?

Janine: Well we have over a million businesses that have come to use us over the course of the last 13 years. We’ve got probably on any given month about 40 to 50,000 active customers that are in there using the system.

Laurie: Ok, thanks. That’s a great introduction too. So why are you introducing a new version of VerticalResponse now?

Janine: Well, over the course of years newer technology surfaces so that companies like VerticalResponse can build some really neat stuff for small businesses to use, easier to use technologies, and we really decided it’s time for us to do that. Our self-service platform really lets those small businesses connect with their customers using both email marketing and social media marketing.

Laurie: Right, I did get a look at it last time we spoke and it does look really easy to use, which is always a good thing for any of us.

Janine: Yeah, you know small businesses really want to get in there and get out and do what they do best which is running their business.

Laurie: Exactly. Who would benefit from this? Is it your existing customers, is it new customers? How will it help them?

Janine: Well definitely new customers and existing customers. It really solves lots of problems but two that come to mind are time and money. Right? So with VerticalResponse these customers can keep in touch with their customers through the email marketing and social media marketing without spending, like you said you thought, without spending a lot of time to learn a complicated technology. This new platform has lots of amazing features. We really focused on drag and drop designer and with that drag and drop come templates that are mobile friendly. We’re really over 50% of all consumers today are checking their email on their mobile phone or on their tablet, so we really put an emphasis on mobile friendly templates, but you can also post messages to Twitter and Facebook right from the same dashboard, so you don’t have to log in to all those different platforms to do your social media as well, it’s kind of like that nifty one-stop shop for email and social.

Screen_Shot_2014-04-08

Laurie: Right, and that’s very convenient. Also, if I remember correctly, once you create your email marketing campaign it will render across any of the mobile devices or somebody’s laptop or desktop without you having to do anything different to it. It’ll render correctly, right?

Janine: Absolutely. We really wanted to take all that guesswork out of it for our customers who are the small businesses.

Laurie: Yep, make it idiot-proof. How about for the customers using the original version that you have, are there any gotchas? Should they switch to the new version or is it something they need to kind of look at some trade-offs or what?

Janine: Well I think at the get-go they should look at the new version, especially if they have under a thousand contacts on their list, it’s free, the whole product is free. That’s one benefit for our current VerticalResponse customers. Over the course of the next two to three quarters, we’re going to be incorporating all of the features that most of the Vertical Response current customers are using into the new platform in an even better and easy-to-use way. As those features come available we’re going to be communicating to those customers that use and love those features that hey, they’re available in the new Vertical Response, come on over and start using them. So that’s pretty exciting for current VerticalResponse customers, I think.

Laurie: Yeah, definitely, so kind of get your feet wet now even if it’s not got every bell and whistle that you want, it will have it and you can learn it and be ready when it’s all available.

Janine: Exactly.

Laurie: So right now the new version is completely free or is it a freemium kind of model where there’s an up charge or how does that work?

Janine: Well it is a freemium model, it is completely free if you have a thousand or fewer customers. Once you go over the thousand contacts on your list it’s as little as nine bucks per month, depending on your list size that’s where it starts. It is completely free but as soon as you start growing and you might want some more bells and whistles, then we’ll ask you for a charge.

Laurie: Yes, sure, typical freemium model. What’s your URL, what’s the website address where they can learn more both about the new product and maybe the existing one too?

Janine: The website is www.verticalresponse.com, they can go, they can sign up right then and there and begin trying it out. It’s pretty easy, they get in there and just try it out and see if they like it.

Laurie: When did you put it up there for people to start trying?

Janine: On the 14th of March.

Laurie: Ok. Have you had a lot of hits or how’s it going with that?

Janine: We have actually. We have the most sign ups that we’ve had over the course of many years, which is just great to see. We think it’s catching on, we think people like it and it’s just going to keep growing, so we’re pretty excited about what we’re able to offer to our business customers.

Laurie: Ok, well that’s great, Janine. I really appreciate your time today and thank you for joining us to share the information and the news.

Janine: Thank you.

Discussing SMB Tech Trends: Part 2, Mobile Applications and Management

Recently, I was a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2014 Top Ten SMB Technology Trends and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The second of a four-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars.”

free multiple mobile devicesKalynn:Welcome back to Act Local Marketing for Small Business, Laurie. The next trend I’d like to discuss is mobile and mobile management and mobile app usage in the SMB market.

Laurie:Well, what we’ve seen with mobile is really fascinating.  I’ve never seen adoption in a technology area occur at such a fast and furious pace. It’s been just unbelievable since the iPhone was launched.

The iPhone changed everything because it personalized the devices, and spawned this whole app ecosystem, and it just made these phones that we all now carry around become critical in our personal lives and in our businesses. 

As a matter of fact, 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as critical to their businesses. That’s kind of unbelievable considering just a few years ago you probably had a dumb phone and you might have relied on it but nothing like we rely on our phones now. 

Kalynn: So what kind of mobile apps are SMBs using?

Laurie: Basic collaboration appscalendars, emails, messaging and contactsare already mainstream. About 83% of SMBs use them. 

Slide1SMBs are also adopting mobile apps for very business-specific functions. So, for things like order entry or inventory lookup, or to log time and attendance or enter payroll. Mobile is becoming part and parcel of how we conduct business.

Almost half of SMBs also either have or are planning to build a mobile-friendly website to engage customers using mobile devices. Sometimes you don’t even have to build it. If you have a WordPress site it’s automatically mobile friendly. 

Kalynn: Right, many themes now are mobile-enabled, and adjust depending on the size of the screen. 

Laurie: If you’re not doing this, you need to. It’s so frustrating to go to a site and have to keep adjusting the screen to read the text because it’s not mobile-friendly.

Some SMBs are also starting to deploy specific mobile apps to engage with their customers and prospects for appointment scheduling and payments, and things like that.

Kalynn: Do they develop their own proprietary mobile apps?

Laurie:Not necessarily. For instance, restaurants may use something like OpenTable. My hair salon uses a mobile app that lets me book and confirm and all that kind of stuff on my mobile device.

Some SMBs are also developing their own mobile apps or paying third parties to develop tailored apps for them.  Most of the backend applications that SMBs use have mobile app extensions, which are often available on Apple and Android app stores. If the right mobile app is available and can snap into your existing app, that can do the trick.

Kalynn: There’s absolutely no need to do customized right off the bat because so many apps are already out there that you can be a part of.

Don’t forget that in terms of making sure you’re getting found online, because  I’m always thinking in terms of SEO or Search Engine Optimization, a lot of these review sites like Yelp have mobile apps. People will go on them to check reviews about your business, more often than not from a mobile device. I’m not sure I remember the exact statistic but it was something 68% of people have their mobile phone within arm’s reach at all times. 

Laurie:It may be even higher. Also I think we’ve already passed the point where more searches are done on a mobile device than on a laptop or traditional PC or MAC.

Slide1So this makes mobile management critical because it’s a given that our reliance and use of mobile apps will continue to rise. SMBs must keep pace with the mobile explosion. You need to be able to manage not only the mobile devices in your company but also internal applications that your employees are using. 

With any mobile applications, security, management and provisioning are very important. If you’re not yet doing anything, in this area, the time has certainly come.

Kalynn: Right, you have to because employees are using so many devices and apps. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)  means that companies are less apt to supply people with devices. Everyone has a favorite and they have to all work together.  You really have to think about mobile policies and procedures  for mobile devices and various apps.

Laurie:Yes, fortunately there are a lot of vendors that have mobile management solutions now geared towards SMBs from vendors like AirWatch or MobileIron. And from vendors that you might already be doing business with like Dell or HP or IBM. A lot of them are cloud-based, so that makes them easier to deploy and use.  

Kalynn: Right, and I’m sure there are tons of consultants that work with these solutions and can help you figure it out too.

In the third of this four-part series, I’ll recap Kalynn’s and my conversation about “SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light.” You can listen to the complete podcast here.

 

 

                       

Social Media 101: A Guide for Small Businesses

Originally published on October 1, 2013 on QBSBDC.com as the second of four blog posts in a series designed to help small businesses, and those that serve them, be successful.

Nearly 80% of active U.S. internet users visit social networks and blogs, according to the SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Social Business Study. This explains why social media marketing is commonplace and effective for most large companies.  At the same time, only 28% of small businesses using social tools identify themselves as applying social in a ‘planned, strategic way.’

Small businesses that use social media in a strategic way are more likely to be satisfied with results than those using it in an ad hoc way. Social media can give a small business the boost it needs to advance to the next level. In fact, 42% of small businesses using social media reported an increase in leads or traffic to their website.

What does it mean to be a strategic user of social media? Here are five best practices worth exploring: 

Step 1: Scope out the competition

Spend a little time on the most popular social media networks and check out how your competitors use those sites. Where do they post? What do they write about? How often do they post? Next, set up your own accounts and start experimenting.

Step 2: Explore customers’ use of social media

Discover how often your customers visit social media sites, what information and experiences they seek, what tools they prefer and what kinds of information they share. 

Step 3: Research what people are saying about you

As you become more familiar with social media, look at how people engage with your company online, including positioning, credibility and following on social networks.

Step 4: Ramp up gradually

Start slowly and then maintain a steady pace. If you begin by posting frequently and then peter out to nothing, your fans could lose interest.  

Step 5: Have a game plan and chart progress

Create a series of posts to cover at least three months of social media activity. Think in terms of upcoming holidays, seasonality, your own promotional calendar, and other time-linked events. This will help keep the content fresh and relevant to your audience.

Of course, you should update your scheduled posts if there is a newsworthy event, showing you are in tune with what is going on. Always respond promptly to social media messages about your business to demonstrate that you are listening to customers and engaged.

 

Infusionsoft: Big Dreams for Small Business

Infusionsoft: Big Dreams for Small Business

Last week I attended InfusionCon 2013, Infusionsoft’s annual user event. In case you’re not familiar with Infusionsoft, they provide web-based all-in-one sales, marketing and ecommerce software aimed at “true” small businesses with 25 or fewer employees.

eventOver 2,000 small business owners attended the event, which featured the launch of Infusionsoft’s 2013 Spring Release, and three days of education, training, networking and presentations. Speakers ranging from Daymond John, founder of FUBU and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, to David Allen, author of the bestseller Getting Things Done, shared center stage with Infusionsoft “Ultimate Marketer” nominees, who provided insight into Infusionsoft’s unique customer community. And, in an industry where most vendors are easily lured upstream into midmarket and large enterprises, the Infusionsoft team doubled-down on the company’s commitment to serving small business.

How does Infusionsoft intend stick with its small business pledge? Let’s take a look based on what I saw and heard at the event.

Climbing Everest

It comes as no surprise to anyone that has ever owned a small business that in every SMB Group study we do, small businesses cite “growing revenues” and “attracting new customers” as their top business challenges. While the goal is straightforward, getting an effective system in place to connect with and nurture prospects and customers is hard and time-consuming. Many end up with using a disconnected assortment of point solutions to address different requirements for things such as ecommerce, email marketing and content management. Not surprisingly this often gets ugly and hard to manage as a business grows. It becomes increasingly difficult to give customers and prospects the responsive and personalized attention, offers and service they expect without working round the clock.

CEO Clate Mask founded Infusionsoft in 2001 with the intent to help small businesses grow without becoming slaves to their businesses by helping them automate their sales and marketing with an integrated, all-in-one solution. Over the past dozen years, Infusionsoft has grown its customer base to 13,500 accounts and 50,000, with a roughly even split between B2C and B2B companies. Growth is also accelerating: Infusionsoft increased revenues and customers by more than 50% in the past year.

I think its fair to say that in the early going, Infusionsoft’s appeal was limited to those small businesses who saw the value of automating their sales and marketing but were also ready, willing and able to invest a lot of time learning how to use Infusionsoft and getting it to work for their businesses. Many of these pioneers have had great success using Infusionsoft to help grow their businesses.

As Infusionsoft has grown however, it has begun to attract more pragmatic customers who don’t have the time or interest required to tinker with configuring software. Small business owners are already wearing enough hats—they aren’t marketing experts and don’t want to be. They see the value that an integrated sales and marketing solution can deliver, but want a shortcut to it.

photoeverestMask and his team have heard this message loud and clear. They know that they need to simplify the solution to appeal to wider swath of small businesses and spike growth to the next level. Consequently, Infusionsoft is focusing on simplifying the solution and delivering positive outcomes to users more quickly to reach its next milestone—100,000 customer accounts in the next four years.

Towards a Sherpa Style Solution

Infusionsoft’s 2013 Spring Release is all about doing more of the heavy lifting so its users don’t have to. The release features a more visual interface, easier to use drag and drop tools, and templates to help small businesses get going. For instance:

  • The My Day dashboard makes it easier to for users get organized, create quotes and move quickly through sales activities to close more business.
  • Infusionsoft’s Marketplace provides a library of free, pre-built marketing campaigns that have a proven track record of converting leads into buyers. Instead of reinventing the wheel, users can download a campaign to their Infusionsoft app, tweak it and go.
  • A new quoting tool that streamlines the quoting process and helps users create, track and manage quotes.
  • New interactive training tutorials help users learn about how to use additional capabilities from within the solutions with boxes that pop up to explain how to do things relevant to where users are in the application.

Infusionsoft has also integrated GroSocial (which it announced the acquisition of in January) with Infusionsoft Campaign Builder. GroSocial enables users to create and manage social campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, and the integration with Campaign Builder whittles down the time it takes to create, manage and track social media marketing campaigns.

Staying the Course

Earlier this year, it captured a $52 million dollar financing round from Goldman Sachs. Skeptics, myself included, have wondered if Goldman Sachs will force Infusionsoft to go upmarket or position for acquisition. After all, striking the right balance to deliver value and build volume in this very fragmented, diverse market is not for the faint of heart. Once you move past turnkey point solutions, very few vendors have been able to establish enduring scale and success.

photo listencareserveBut Mask says that the investment firm wants Infusionsoft to keep its small business pledge and build a great, long-lived company. It turns out that Goldman Sachs supports small businesses through its non-profit foundation, 10,000 Small Businesses, and Infusionsoft sees potential synergy with this initiative. Meanwhile, Infusionsoft is staying true to its own small business roots. Over 60% of its employees have experience running their own small businesses, and Infusionsoft encourages new employees to continue running their small businesses while they work for Infusionsoft to keep the small business focus sharp and stay true to its mantra to listen, care and serve small businesses.

Infusionsoft is also expanding its ecosystem of developer and service delivery partners, which now includes over 300 partners. This year’s Battle of the Apps, showcased at InfusionCon, showcased 4 contestants who develop plug-ins and add-ons to the Infusionsoft platform.

we empowerIn January 2013, Infusionsoft opened up its new 90,000 square foot building to accommodate the 700 employees it will add to its staff to support its small business growth goals and culture. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a big wall with hundreds of photos of Infusionsoft’s small business customers. The building features:

  • Meeting rooms that small businesses in the Phoenix community can use free of charge.
  • A large space to accommodate training for customers and partners.
  • Prominent displays of the company’s nine core values and performance benchmarks for its Everest climb.
  • A games room, mother’s room and a cereal bar—which harkens back to remind everyone of the early dark days when Mask and his then small team lived on cereal and pizza.
  • Infusionsoft is also expanding its ecosystem of developer and service delivery partners, which now includes over 300 partners. This year’s Battle of the Apps, showcased at InfusionCon, 4 contestants who develop plug-ins and add-ons to the Infusionsoft platform.

Interestingly, the building also includes a Dreaming Room—complete with a library and full-time Dream Manager—to help Infusionsoft employees set and attain their personal goals. Infusionsoft believes that happy employees equate to happy customers—and it is filling the walls with photos of how its employees are achieving their dreams.

Perspective

Will Infusionsoft’s dedication to small business pay off? Will it be able to stay the small business course, and find the formula that eludes so many tech companies. Is it on track to become a scalable, enduring small business solution company ala Intuit? Of course, only time will tell if Infusionsoft’s execution will live up to its intentions.

The company will need to strike that fine balance of creating powerful solutions without complexity—a rare thing indeed. But, so far, I like what I see. Keeping fresh small business blood running through its employees’ veins should also help keep it focused on and in tune with small businesses—especially when so many of the vendors targeting small business are so far removed from the realities that small business owners face. Infusionsoft has the capital it needs to provide a better user experience for its customers, and broaden its partner ecosystem to add the nuanced capabilities that diverse small business customers demand.

Infusionsoft’s goal for next year’s InfusionCon is 4,000 small business owner attendees. I’ll be watching to see if the company meets this objective, because convincing that many “true” small business owners to put day-to-day business needs aside for three days to travel and invest to learn how to use any software solution may be a first. If Infusionsoft pulls this off, it will be a very good omen indeed that it can fulfill on its dreams for itself and for its small business customers.

Dell’s Boston Think Tank: Big Ideas for Small Business

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in Dell’s Boston Think Tank for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses (#smallbizboston) at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Dell billed the session as a chance for business owners, startups and others to come together to listen, learn, collaborate and share.

dpictInstead of talking heads, the day was interactive from start to finish, with speakers who realized that they have as much to learn from attendees as the other way around. And instead of PowerPoint slides, dpict.info’s scribe captured the story as it unfolded, building this great infographic to sum up the day’s key conversations and insights.

Dell_Boston_2013_printDell’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt (who I spoke to in this video interview) kicked off the event some interesting stats about how Boston small businesses view the current business environment and their ability access to capital, talent and technology. Whitney Johnson (@johnsonwhitney), Author of Dare, Dream, Do and Harvard Business Review Blogger and event moderator, introduced the 4 different themes for the day, each facilitated by a local small business expert:

Dell sessionFrom my perspective, some of the most interesting takeaways from the day were that small business owners:

  • Struggle to find qualified people who are also a good fit for the company’s culture. Although small business owners believe that talent and expertise are the most important contributors to business growth, they find it difficult task to access the talent they need. The investment required to recruit, hire and train someone looms large for small business, and the risk of hiring someone who doesn’t work out is a big one. While people have had success outsourcing smaller jobs to contractors via sites such as Elance, TaskRabbit and Zirtual, “you reach a point where you need talent that you can trust, commit to and hire.” Practical advice included to “go where the talent is,” for example, check out http://www.meetup.com/ and go to meetups where you’re most likely to find the types of people you’re looking for, and learn some of the lingo they use so you can engage in a meaningful conversation. Other suggestions included writing down and codifying your corporate values so that you can clearly articulate them to the candidates you interview. Finally, look for people with complementary skills to yours, and those who can do the job as well or even better than you can.
  • See technology as both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, the Internet and mobile solutions have made it much easier for people to collaborate and connect. On the other hand, small business owners are in information overload when it comes to sorting through all the thousands of available technology solutions and determine which can really help them achieve their business goals–growing revenue, being more productive, and operating more profitably. Dell’s survey indicates that 41% of Boston small businesses see technology needs as becoming increasingly complex, yet only 1 in 10 have full-time dedicated IT people. This mirrors SMB Group’s North America research findings. Most small businesses see the value of technology in making their businesses successful, but need a lot of help to identify which solutions will have the biggest impact on business results.
  • Believe telecommuting and working remotely enables productivity. Sorry, @Yahoo Melissa Mayer, but I think its fair to say that you are swimming against the tide. The general sentiment seemed to be that although live, face-to-face meetings are ideal for some things, the ability to work remotely has given small businesses more flexibility and access to talent. For instance, Sharon Kan, an entrepreneur with four successful start-up exits, kicked of the Access to Technology session by saying she runs her businesses with “a phone and a laptop.”
  • Typically pull their businesses up with their own bootstraps. Only 3% of Boston small businesses relied on venture capital and angel investors to get off the ground. Personal savings are the top source of funding at 44%, followed by banks and credit unions at 23%. Amy Millman of Springboard Investors, which has funded a raft of innovative start-ups, including Zipcar, iRobot and Constant Contact, gave business owners insights into what investors are looking for. First, you must be able to clearly articulate how your company is going to make money, and “learn the language of funders and investors”. More pointedly, when a prospect says “wow”, take it a step further. Find out the “why and how of the wow” and use that in your pitch to investors.
  • Need to get more strategic about using social media. According to Chris Brogan, who led the social media breakout, all businesses must think like “fledgling TV stations and create their own media” and “build trust at a distance.” The challenge is how to do this effectively. SMB Group’s 2012 Social Business survey indicates that of the 53% of small businesses using social media, less than half use it in a strategic way. According to Chris, small businesses need a home base, such as a web site or blog, and two “outposts.” One outpost should be the social media site that’s the best fit for your story and how you want to tell it (I would add that it also needs to be a place where your prospects hang out) and the other is email marketing: bad email marketing may be dead but good email marketing isn’t. Don’t try to spread yourself too thin–concentrate on using these three to help you “articulate, reach, trust, engage and echo” to meet your business goals.

dell session 5Overall, the interactive format, access to experts and eclectic mix of small business owners added up to an event that gave attendees information and inspiration, and new connections with people to get help from and vice versa.

Dell put a lot into the event. In addition to Ingrid and a number of Dell marketing and AR staff, Dell product strategy, management and technology teams were also well represented. With its listening ears on at events such as this, Dell is taking the right steps not only to help small businesses succeed, but to also ensure that it has the insights it needs to provide small businesses with the solutions they need to move ahead.

The Boston event was the last stop on Dell’s inaugural Think Tank tour of nine cities, but I’m told that Dell intends to follow-up with a new tour schedule soon.

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